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Travels Through Time #7 – Aanchal Malhotra, 1947

Travels Through Time Aanchal Malhotra Remnants of a Separation

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, it became clear that the British Raj was no longer sustainable. But how should the British leave the Indian subcontinent after such a long period of colonial rule? Should the territory be divided? How could this be done? 

The long-contested answers to these questions were delivered between June and August of 1947. In this episode of Travels Through Time the writer and artist Aanchal Malhotra explores the bewildering and traumatic events of that summer. We meet the officials, including the man responsible for drawing the border line between India and Pakistan, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, and many of the individuals whose lives were altered irrevocably by his decisions. 

History Today | Published in
History Today | Published 19 March 2019
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The Dream of Constantine

A mythical turning point in the history of Europe.

‘Constantine’s Dream’ by Piero della Francesca, from the fresco cycle, the History of the True  Cross, 1459-66, Basilica di San Francesco, Arezzo, Italy.

On the eve of his battle with Maxentius to decide who was to be the undisputed Emperor of Rome, Constantine lies asleep in his tent. An angel descends from the night sky, holding a glowing golden crucifix. One of Constantine’s guards, on the left of the painting, echoes the cross with his lance. A bored attendant, oblivious to a vision visible only to his sleeping master, rests his elbow on the bed.

Following the abdication of the Emperor Diocletian in AD 305, a number of emperors and deputy emperors in the West and the East of the Empire contended for power. Acclaimed as emperor by his troops in York in 306, Flavius Galerius Constantinus was appointed deputy emperor of the West by Galerius, Diocletian’s successor. But, while Constantine was away in Britain and Gaul, his brother-in-law, Maxentius, waged war against Galerius and seized Italy and Rome. After Galerius died in 311, Constantine invaded Italy, won battles at Turin and Verona and headed for Rome.

The Riot Police who Revolt France

Revolting: members of the CRS throw grenades during student riots in Paris, 1968.The gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement has reopened old wounds in France, and also resurrected some old chants. During the 1968 student uprising there was one refrain above all others that reverberated through the rues and boulevards of Paris as protesters battled with police: ‘CRS = SS’. Half a century later a new generation of demonstrators is drawing the same comparison between the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité [CRS], France’s elite police unit – which describes itself as ‘specialists in the maintenance of order’ – and the Nazi’s protection squad, the Schutzstaffel, as they vent their fury against rising taxes and falling wages.

Gavin Mortimer | Published 12 March 2019
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Volume 69 Issue 3 March 2019

A Short History of Sushi

The Japanese dish of humble origins that conquered the world. 

Sushi.On the morning of 5 January 2019, gasps of amazement rippled through Tokyo’s cavernous fish market. In the first auction of the new year, Kiyoshi Kimura – the portly owner of a well-known chain of sushi restaurants – had paid a record ¥333.6 million (£2.5 million) for a 278kg bluefin tuna. Even he thought the price was exorbitant. A bluefin tuna that size would have normally cost him around ¥2.7 million (£18,700). At New Year, that could rise to around ¥40 million (£279,000). Back in 2013, he’d paid no less than ¥155.4 million (£1.09 million) for a 222kg specimen: a lot, to be sure. But still a lot less than what he’d just paid.   

Boredom and the British Empire

Erik Linstrum | Published 08 March 2019
Was the British Empire boring? As Jeffrey Auerbach notes in his irreverent new book, it’s an unexpected question, largely because imperial culture was so conspicuously saturated with a sense of adventure. The exploits of explorers, soldiers and proconsuls – dramatised in Boys’ Own -style narratives – captured the imagination of contemporaries and coloured views of Empire for a long time after its end. Even latter-day historians committed to Marxist or postcolonial critiques of Empire tend to assume that the imperialists themselves mostly had a good time. Along with material opportunities for upward mobility, Empire offered what the Pan-Africanist W.E.B. DuBois...Read more »
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Bela Lugosi as the eponymous Count in Tod Browning's Dracula, 1931.

Dracula Beats the Communists

Transylvania – a large region comprising much of central Romania – is near-synonymous with one word: Dracula. Bram Stoker’s novel, published in 1897, tells the story of a predatory vampire who lives in a ruined castle, high in the Carpathian mountains. Most of the action unfolds in Victorian London, but it is the description of Transylvania – dark, wild, untouched by science and modernity – that is the novel’s most evocative achievement. Since Stoker had never been to Transylvania his portrayal of the region was largely the work of imagination.

On the Spot: Daisy Dunn

‘I’d be disappointed if I didn’t meet Emperor Claudius in the afterlife.’

Why are you a historian of the Classical world?
Because I enjoy the creativity involved in piecing together fragments to create a bigger picture.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?
That even the sharpest minds can be flawed.

Which book has had the greatest influence on you?
H.H. Scullard’s From the Gracchi to Nero.

What book in your field should everyone read?
The History of Greek Vases by John Boardman.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?
I’d love to have been with the Bishop of Verona when he came across Catullus’ poems in the tenth century.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?
Barbara Levick. She writes with such verve on the emperors of Rome and imperial women.

Which person in history would you most like to have met?
I’d be disappointed if I didn’t meet Emperor Claudius in the afterlife.

How many languages do you have?
I read Latin, Greek, French, German and Italian.

Marshall Myths

Britain received more Marshall aid than Germany, but spent much of it propping up a delusion. 

George Marshall defends his European Recovery Programme before the Senate.Perhaps the most persistent and enduring myth in modern British history is that the country did badly, in comparison with its European neighbours, out of the Marshall Plan, the scheme of American largesse that funded the reconstruction of war-ravaged western Europe. But it is simply not true.

West Germany received $1.7 billion of postwar aid from the United States, which it invested primarily in capital and infrastructure, paving the way for the Wirtschaftswunder, the postwar economic miracle that turned the country into a manufacturing powerhouse, which, even after the considerable cost of reunification in 1990, it remains.

Britain, as victor, had an understandable sense of entitlement – and let us not forget the nature of the regime that it and its Empire had helped defeat – but, as an indication of the sacrifice it had made, it ended the conflict with an economy more like that of a defeated or occupied nation.

Kafka: The Trial Continues

Devorah Baum | Published 01 March 2019
When Franz Kafka claimed ‘I am made of literature’ it wasn’t a metaphor, it was a metaphysical proposition. In his own case, he was suggesting, nothing distinguished between literature and life. Kafka’s case, however, was always much more than just his own: ‘Had one to name the artist who comes nearest to bearing the same kind of relation to our age that Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe bore to theirs’, wrote Auden, ‘Kafka is the first one would think of.’ For many, Kafka is not only representative of the modern age, but its foremost prophet. His life in letters has had...Read more »
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Waste Not, Want Not

A medieval masterpiece has much to say about the modern preoccupation with greed.

Word up: the demon Titivillus, medieval wall painting, St Mary, Melbourne, Derbyshire.William Langland’s 14th-century poem Piers Plowman opens with a vision, witnessed by a dreamer as he slumbers on the Malvern Hills. He sees before him a ‘fair field full of folk’, of many classes and professions, ‘working and wandering as the world asketh’ – a vision of the whole of human society. But almost the first thing he realises is that this labour is not fairly distributed: some people work hard yet barely have enough to eat, while others selfishly squander what the labourers toil for.

A wise teacher appears and explains to the dreamer that the root of this injustice is greed. Over-consumption by some people means there isn’t enough to go around, she says; the bountiful resources of the earth can provide enough for everyone, but only if people do not consume more than they need. Her solution is to remember that ‘measure is medicine’: moderation is healthy for the soul and the body, for the individual and for society at large.